A classic Japanese property gets another adaptation into Western media with a new CG film based on Tezuka's tale of a young robot boy.
What They Say
Blast off with Astro Boy, the thrilling tale of a true hero! In futuristic Metro City, scientist Tenma (Nicolas Cage) creates an amazing robot boy with hidden talents unlike anything you've ever seen. Astro Boy (Freddie Highmore) has super strength, x-ray vision, incredible speed and the ability to fly. But what he really wants is to know where he belongs. When the world needs saving, he'll discover he was made for the challenge.
Astro Boy has a strong audio presentation with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix as well as a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. The lossless mix is really good with a lot of directionality across the forward soundstage as well as a lot of material thrown to the rear speakers. The music is what makes out the best with an immersive feeling to all of it but the action effects come across very well here. The shift of sound and action effects from the rear to the front to follow gunfire and more does a good job of keeping you surrounded by all of it which heightens the scenes in a positive way. Dialogue has some solid placement as well but makes out the best with the kind of clarity you get to it. I liked this mix overall as it does a lot of good without being obnoxious or overwhelming about it.
Originally in theaters in 2009, the transfer for this film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. I had seen this in the theater but knew I'd enjoy it more at home because of the digital quality here and it does shine in a stronger way. The colors are really vibrant throughout with a lot of detail visible. The main problem with digital animation tends to be gradients but with higher end productions like this there are precious few of note. Some of the solid areas occasionally have a bit of noise to it, often with the grays, but it's like a blip on the radar. By and large this is a great looking show and the style of CG used leaps off the screen with a lot of detail to it. Between that and the punch of the colors it's easy to be drawn into this show on just that alone.
Astro Boy has a straightforward release with a standard Blu-ray packaging (with first pressings have the slipcover that replicates the case artwork). The main image of Astro flying forward in a classic pose works well though the lighting has him looking much too dark here which doesn’t mesh well with the blue background and the blue case itself. The rest of the cover is made up of a small shot of Cora and the RRF against the Metro City cityscape behind her and the cover is simply dark overall even with everyone flashing smiles. The logo looks good but even that blend with the background circuitry. The back cover fairs a little better as there’s more white brought into the background and the text and grids around it help to brighten it overall. The technical grid at the top lays it all out clearly and easily while below we get the usual big push about the show, mentioning the voice talent as well which is a nice plus. The shots from the show are decent but they don’t sell it too awful well. The rest is given over to a breakdown of the special features here and the production credits along with a very simple old style technical grid listing the aspect ratio (which is in the HD technical grid) and the runtime. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menus for Astro Boy have a nice clean look as we get a look at the cityscape for the majority of it as well as some great looking blue sky where the logo resides over. The top level menu has a bit of animation to it as well with Astro flitting in and out of it while there is rocket power coming out of the portion of the logo where he is. The bottom section has the navigation itself, which doubles as the pop-up menu during the movie, which has a nice thematic feel to it with parts of the city visible through the blue filter. Navigation is simple and straightforward with a clean approach that loads quickly though I would have preferred the extras to list everything out rather than having to move through the whole thing to find what I would want to check out. The menus are problem free and everything loads quickly throughout.
This release has a bunch of good extras included in it that are pretty appealing. I loved the first one as I have with other animated features as it brings in the voice actors to talk about the show itself. Many of them were familiar with Astro Boy before the project which is something that I always like to see. Though it runs only ten minutes, it's fun to see them in the booth and to see their energy and enthusiasm for the show. Another good extra is a seven minute piece showing what went into designing the locations of the movie and Metro City itself. CG creation fans will definitely like seeing the way Imagi did this. The image gallery section is actually a five minute video piece that shows Astro's origins in the Tezuka manga and what they picked out and worked with to adapt it to the CG styling while also looking at the old black and white animation series as well as the color one. I particularly liked the segment that dealt with the advertising of the film and all the promotional images as well as a look at the evolution of several of the characters in their designs. There's also a three minute segment on getting the look for Astro Boy in which they have lots of people come out for getting their hair done up in gel. It's a fun little promotional event that's cute. Imagi also created a pair of shorts to go with this release that adds a little more cuteness tot he film overall but they're mostly forgettable overall. It's the usual kind of short gags you'd get for something like this, with one dealing with the junk yard and the other with the RRF.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Astro Boy has long been a well known property in the US, though it has become more of a nostalgic series in the last decade or so for the fans who grew up with it on TV when they were children. When Imagi Animation got involved with creating a new movie, their particular CG style of animation seemed well suited to taking Osamu Tezuka's original work and breathing a new life into it for a new generation. And with Imagi taking the helm of another anime classic with Gatchaman that is a bit more serious and dealing with older characters, Astro Boy is a litmus test to see how well they can do.
My experienced with Astro Boy in previous incarnations is pretty minimal simply because it wasn't part of my generation and the anime I've seen from that time period have been unappealing, including the episodes of Astro Boy I've seen. I've enjoyed many other works by Osamu Tezuka, but Astro Boy never clicked. So I went into the film with a pretty open mind – and with my kids in tow – because I have no real attachment to the original. What I have an attachment to is Tezuka's particular style of design, the worlds he creates and the kind of wonder he infused in so many of his works.
Astro Boy takes place in a future where the planet has fallen to severe ecological ruin, where everything has collapsed. One city saw what was coming though and through their high technology and copious use of robots, they took their city to the sky and lived above the clouds in a utopia where their robots do most everything. They're treated as simple tools that get the job done, even with the rather diverse and interesting personalities many of them have. Metro City has little regard for the world below and treats it as a waste dump for all their outdated robots and other electronics, uncaring about who or what may be trying to eke out an existence down there.
Metro City is in the midst of an election and President Stone is doing his best to ensure his victory. And that includes using some newly discovered power sources, a negative red energy and a positive blue energy, to power his Peacekeeper so he can declare war on the surface world so people flock to his side. Against their better judgment, doctor Tenma and doctor Elefun agree to this and power up the Peacekeeper. Unsurprisingly, when using only the red energy, it goes berserk and starts to absorb everything in the area. In an attempt to get free, it blasts heavily and ends up killing Tenma's genius thirteen year old son Toby. This causes Tenma to later decide he'll recreate his son through the use of the positive energy with the most advanced robot he can design with multiple defensive and offensive weapons so he'd never be hurt.
Astro Boy goes in a pretty straightforward direction where the revived Toby as Astro isn't quite the same boy he was and that causes Tenma to not want him any longer. Astro ends up on a journey of self discovery, spending time down on the surface world where he befriends some human kids his own age while hiding what he is as well as making friends with a group known as the Robot Revolutionary Front that's pretty ineffective. He's naturally drawn back to Metro City where he has to deal with President Stone's machinations to achieve his desired election results, which occur with the negative red energy really causing quite a few problems for everyone.
Clocking in at just over ninety minutes, Astro Boy runs through some fairly predictable material, which isn't too much of a surprise as it's an origin story. In some ways, I did see some Superman parallels here and there with how he hands his discovery of abilities, the way he uses some of them and his sense of justice and doing what's right. Astro is a very good guy in the classic sense, but one that will take the fight to the bad guy with no regrets either. Because of this, adults may not find all that much to really connect with here. There's a lot of style, not overdone or blunt, but it's not backed up by a huge amount of emotion or plot. Like a lot of CG films, it's missing that human element to really make it work. That said, for kids, it may work wonders. I saw this on opening day with about two dozen kids in the audience, all young, as well as my own kids. Both of my talked about how parts of it made them sad, lots of it made them laugh along with it and they came out of it really hyped for it – and upset. Upset at the tease of an ending that even I'll admit left me wanting to see THAT movie.
With a production like this, a lot rides on the voice performances of the film. For some people, that's the big selling point so they can hear their favorite actors in something very different. A lot of this cast is really pretty good at what they do. Freddie Highmore managed to really do a spot on job with Astro himself and I think Kristen Bell did a good job with Cora, the human girl he befriends on the surface world who has her own issues. They're not deep characters and they wear some of their emotions on their sleeves, but they sell their roles rather well. Most of the cast is pretty much average in what they do in that they don't detract from the film and blend into their roles well enough. Donald Sutherland definitely stands out with his voice but he fits the role of President Stone in action and the command of his voice.
The two roles I had a real problem with were Dr. Tenma and Hamegg. Nicholas Cage is completely miscast as Astro's father because in this particular role, he really can't seem to express the right emotions when his son dies or in how he expresses his grief through building Astro. Cage does talk about this in the extras but I can’t help but feel that emphasized the wrong things with him and went in the wrong direction. His voice doesn't fit that of the doctor in the slightest and makes it very hard to sell that particular moment as it's devoid of any emotion. It's too cold considering what he ends up doing. With Hamegg, a robot repairman living on the surface world, being voiced by Nathan Lane makes him distinct but it also looks like they took a lot of visual cues from him in designing the character. That won't bother the kids who haven't a clue, but it jars you out of the film heavily because all you hear is Lane, not Hamegg.
Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Astro Boy a good deal because it's flashy, moves at a good pace and has a fun story overall. It's respectful of what the classic is about in many ways, updates well to this particular brand of CG animation that Imagi uses and has a good voice cast for the most part. I doubt this will go over well with anime fans and while it did pretty poorly in the theater, it might have a decent shelf life over time on home video and broadcast. When they had to make Superman dark in order to try and sell him, it says a lot about where leading characters are these days and Astro Boy does not go that route. Revisiting this on Blu-ray was definitely fun as it reminded me of all the things I liked, emphasized again the problems I had, but also reminded me that I really wasn’t the target audience. In sitting down to watch this, my kids wandered by and remembered what it was and promptly sat down to watch it again. They remembered much of it from before and were once again pretty enraptured by it for the whole length of the film. And for a lot of kids, that’s pretty damn hard to do so I have to give the movie props when it comes to reaching who it’s really after.
Features English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 Language, English SDH Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Astro vs. The Junkyard Pirates, The RRF In: The New Recruit, Inside the Recording Booth, Designing A Hero, Building Metro City, Astro Boy Image Gallery, Getting The Astro Boy Look
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70" LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
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